Monday, December 15, 2014

Book: Wait - The Useful Art of Procrasination by Frank Partnoy



"Wait - The Useful Art of Procrasination", by Frank Partnoy, contains some good material but is way too broad and disjointed. I was expecting more around procrastination in particular, as my book was sub-headed 'The Useful Art of Procrasination', but this topic isn't discussed directly until about 150 pages in. Note, the above image has the broader sub-header 'The Art and Science of Delay', which is more accurate. The problem of breath is that while Partnoy provides interesting comments on his chosen topics, which include subjects as diverse as sports, high-frequency trading, and dating, most fields or pursuits include delay as a key element, e.g. cooking, driving, shooting, hunting, reading, exams, etc, and these would haven't looked out of place in the book.

** 1/2

Notes

- Timing is a skill, both an art and a science, that involves gut instinct, expertise and trial and error. Broadly speaking, we tend to react too quickly. Generally, it is favourable to wait until the last possible moment. 

- David Foster Wallace is quoted on how the return of serve in tennis is a largely unconscious reaction, given the speed of the ball, yet the service returner appears to have processed and responded to a cascade of information: 'Temporally, we're more in the operative range of reflexes, purely physical reactions that bypass conscious thought. And yet an effective return of serve depends on a large set of decisions and physical adjustments that are a whole lot more involved and intentional than blinking, jumping when startled, etc.'

On reaction times in tennis: Visual reaction time is about the same for all of us, at approx 200ms. This is the 'seeing' bit, which needs to be followed by the 'physical reaction' bit. The hitting of the serve takes around 300ms. Connors practised returning really hard serves and developed 'fast eyes' (zoning in on the ball and translating this into a quick attack) and quick muscle response times, executing his  return that little bit faster than most. This created a relative liberation from the time constraint vs the competition, giving time to either return earlier or to go slow and pick spots (i.e. going fast in order to go slow).  Note, professional servers can disguise their serves so the returner can't predict ahead of time, thus, it's not about faster visual reaction times but about quicker physical reaction times.

- Look to optimise latency, not minimise it i.e. not just about being quickest but about being right.

- Charles Perrow, a Yale sociologist, proposed adding slack to complex systems. Financial market regulators use circuit breakers forcing traders to step out of the moment.

- Be wary of the simplification of Blink. Debunks idea of super thin-slicing e.g. making decisions in the first two seconds. Some decisions are rightly snap decisions but more complex decisions require more time. It is a continuum. It can be useful to pause to consider biases, stereotypes, etc and adjust accordingly.

- Panic can turn experts into amateurs.

- Procrastination. We all do it and there is no unifying theory. It may be rational or irrational, or a bit of both.

- A great quote from Michael Lewis on procrastination:
'...I get up, take my child to school, then come back to my office and usually procrastinate until I panic, and then I write. I procrastinate to a point where I'm filled with self-loathing and then I start writing. It's usually a state of self-loathing that gets me going.'

And what lessons could I take from the book?
- Practice hard to improve reaction times
- Consider the optimal time to wait and decide. 
- Consider importance of slack in complex systems, even in timetables.
- Trading: widen stops and don't over trade.
- Keep in mind the trade-off between time and cost, and complexity.
- Snap reactions - pause and consider biases.
- Be mindful of decision making under stress.

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